How to Build Your Own VPN (and Why You Might Want to)

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How to Build Your Own VPN - A Quick Summary

Ever thought of building your own VPN from scratch? With modern tools, you can route data through your own secure tunnel. Keep your traffic safe from hackers, your ISP, and the government.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • VPS hosting
  • Ansible scripts
  • Some technical knowledge

However, there are also some downsides to keep in mind:

  • You won’t be able to bypass online censorship.
  • You can’t unblock regional versions of Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services.

If streaming and beating censorship are your main goals, we recommend going with a reliable VPN provider like ExpressVPN. It’s fast, secure, and has an ironclad no-logging policy.

If you’re happy with Netflix in your country and just want to route your traffic through the tunnel of your own making, learn how to do it in our full article below.

Online privacy is the talk of the town in the modern world. Hackers, spy organizations, and even ISPs are looking to collect and exploit your personal data. The reasons range from surveillance to profit, but the end result is always the same – your personal info getting into the wrong hands.

It’s no wonder the popularity of VPNs has skyrocketed in the past few years. Buying a trusted VPN service is a good way of keeping online snoops away from your sensitive data. But what if you don’t want to put that much faith in VPN companies? Or, simply don’t want to pay the monthly recurring fee? Could you build your own VPN?

Is it expensive? Can it even be done? Do you need an IT degree to do it? Can a DIY VPN keep you safe online? Keep reading to find the answers to all these questions and more.

What Tools Do You Need To Create Your Own VPN?

Building a VPN is nothing more than creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and your cloud server. In other words, instead of trusting a VPN company, you’re trusting a cloud service provider.

Doing this will effectively replace your real IP address with the one assigned to the server. On the security front, your traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel so no third parties can access your data. To put it simply, no one will be able to see what you’re doing online and, even if they could, they couldn’t trace your traffic back to you.

It’s possible, but it requires a bit of work. So, let’s see what tools you’ll need to create your own VPN.

VPS (Virtual Private Server)

Your self-hosted VPN has to be installed somewhere. This is where virtual private servers come in. You’ll have to choose a cloud service provider that suits your personal needs and budget.

Here are some essentials to keep in mind here:

  • Virtualization technology: KVM and Xen are solid options. You should avoid providers using OpenVZ (outdated and easily monitored).
  • IPv4 address: Most providers nowadays will give you a dedicated IPv4 address. However, keep in mind that some of them could provide you only with an IPv6 address, which could cause connectivity issues down the line.
  • Locations: Your server locations should match the purpose of your VPN. If you’re torrenting a lot, it’s wise to avoid Germany and Australia. For a gaming VPN, you should pick closer locations with lower pings (ideally, in your own state). If privacy is important to you, stay clear of the 14 eyes countries.

DigitalOcean Cloud Service Platform Website Homepage screenshot

If you don’t want to waste time on endless research, here are the most popular cloud services out there:

  • DigitalOcean
  • Amazon EC2
  • Amazon Lightsail
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Vultr
  • Google Compute Engine
  • DreamCompute
  • Scaleway
  • Linode

DigitalOcean is most commonly used due to its unparalleled user-friendliness. Its $5 starter pack gives you 1TB of outgoing bandwidth, which should be enough for most users.

Amazon EC2 is also quite popular due to its 1-year free plan. However, this plan comes with limitations that will hamper your VPN, especially if you plan on using it on multiple devices. For instance, it only allows 750 hours of use per month.

Ansible scripts

Setting up a VPN from scratch manually could take you hours or even days. Ansible scripts allow you to perform complex IT actions at a click of a button. The most famous project that lets you create a secure tunnel is called Algo VPN.

Screenshot of a Algo GitHub Interface

It was created by the team behind Trail of Bits to simplify the whole process while ensuring maximum security. One of its main assets is the ability to create a disposable VPN (more on that later). It also supports all the cloud services listed above.

Some people prefer options like Streisand for its privacy-focused features and the ability to set up an integrated Tor bridge. However, we still recommend going with Algo VPN because it’s easier to execute.

How to Deploy Your Self-Hosted VPN

Algo VPN and DigitalOcean work really well together. You don’t even have to create a server on DigitalOcean manually since Algo uses their API to create servers and configure everything. Algo’s automation also allows you to skip establishing an SSH connection and running complex command lines.

These two services are regularly updated and the setup process changes accordingly. You can find the steps needed to deploy your VPN on Algo’s official GitHub repository.

Screenshot of a Algo Server Running with redacted DNS resolver IP address

Here’s just a rough outline of the process:

  1. Create your DigitalOcean account.
  2. Download the Algo VPN file and unzip it.
  3. Install the VPN dependencies using the appropriate command lines.
  4. Run the installation wizard
  5. Find the configuration profiles in the “Configs” directory and double-click on them.
  6. Return to your terminal and start the deployment.

The specific steps will vary, depending on your device, but Algo is rather generous with its setup guides and you should have no problems getting your VPN up and running in no time.

The Advantages of Creating Your Own VPN

Even though you don’t have to be a developer to build your own VPN, it does require a bit of technical prowess. Are the results worth the trouble? We’ll go over some of the most prominent benefits of DIY VPNs:

Disposable VPNs

As mentioned, homemade VPNs simply shift your traffic from your ISP or VPN provider to your cloud service. However, services like DigitalOcean allow you to boot up a new server every time you connect. You can just delete this instance (and all associated data) after every session and make it look like it never existed.

Cheaper than VPN services

DigitalOcean costs as little as $5 to get your home VPN server going. If you’re a light user, you can get one year for free with Amazon AWS. This is considerably cheaper than commercial VPNs.

Having said that, if you want to use a lot of servers, every location is charged separately and the price can shoot up really quickly. In this case, these cheap VPN services will end up saving you a lot of money.

The Limitations of DIY VPNs

If homemade VPNs were strictly better than commercial ones, they would quickly transform the entire market. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to go through the trouble of deploying one, and your personal needs also play a role.

Here’s what self-hosted VPNs cannot do for you:

Fight online censorship

Censorship-heavy countries like China invest enormous resources in keeping their firewalls up. They have all big cloud companies on their radars, so your assigned IP address will most likely be blocked.

So, if you want to bypass online censorship, we still recommend going with VPN services like NordVPN. If you’re looking for a VPN with all the advantages of a premium VPN as well as many possibilities to personalize settings and features, AirVPN might be a good choice for you. Another option you could look into, is BolehVPN.

Unblock streaming services

If streaming is your thing, DIY VPNs won’t get you far. Of course, you can use DigitalOcean to set up a server in the US but you won’t be able to unblock Hulu or Netflix US anywhere else in the world.

The problem we outlined with censorship also applies here – all cloud services that are worth your time are blocked by major streaming platforms. In this case, we would recommend picking one of our best VPNs for Netflix, instead of creating your own.

Do Self-Hosted VPNs Provide Better Privacy?

Online sources often point out better privacy as one of the major pros of self-hosted VPNs. But is that really the case? We would have to say no.

Cloud services collect your data from the moment you register. Depending on the company, you’ll have to provide your full name, address, email, the name of your company, phone number, etc. That’s similar to what VPN providers do.

Furthermore, they all use cookies and other tracking technologies. This allows them to get your IP address, ISP, browser type, operating system, date/time stamps, and a lot of other information. All this data can be used to mount a successful attack against you by malicious actors if your cloud provider gets hacked. They will also hand over your info if asked to do so by the authorities.

Cloud services work with third-party advertisers to serve you targeted ads. Their advertising partners can also set their own cookies, pixel tags, and similar trackers.

Privacy-wise, making your own VPN looks a lot like using a VPN service. A lot of guides state that you shouldn’t trust VPN companies, but why should you trust these cloud services providers? In our opinion, there’s absolutely no difference in privacy levels, whether you opt to buy a VPN or make your own.

Final Thoughts

Creating your own VPN has become easier than ever thanks to some modern tools and of course, cloud servers. The process is as simplified as possible and almost fully automated.

Self-hosted VPNs are considerably cheaper than commercial ones and can allow you to delete your server after every session. However, they are unable to bypass online censorship and unblock popular streaming services outside their countries of origin.

We would argue that homemade VPNs don’t offer any privacy boosts since you still need to work with a cloud service that will log some of your data. With that in mind, we still recommend going with cheap or trusted free VPNs rather than creating your own.

How to Build Your Own VPN - Frequently Asked Questions

Have a few questions about building your own VPN or how it works? See if they haven’t been answered already!

Yes, you can easily create your own VPN. You will require some level of technical knowledge, and a careful understanding of how VPNs work in general. Read our full guide on how to build your own VPN.

It is not illegal to make your own VPN. However, in countries such as China, where censorship is very high, building your own VPN may land you in trouble.

At most, it’s going to cost you around $5-$10 to build your own VPN. This includes the costs of renting a cloud server primarily. The rest is free and easily doable.

Tech journalist
Djordje is a cybersecurity copywriter with an extensive background in law and marketing. He was a team leader in a company specializing in content creation in the field of technology. His main interests include legal frameworks for censorship on all levels and the place of VPNs and other cybersecurity software on that spectrum.